PITTSBURGH -- Here's what to watch for in Game 5:
At a glance: After three straight losses in which they have looked ragged, demoralized and outclassed, the New York Rangers are on the brink of elimination heading into Game 5 of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night at Consol Energy Center. While the Penguins’ stars have risen to the occasion, save for a disappointing series opener, the Rangers’ top players have been largely ineffective this entire series.
Status uncertain: Veteran forward Martin St. Louis will play Friday night, following the unexpected death of his mother, France St. Louis. Coach Alain Vigneault said before the game that St. Louis went home to Montreal to spend time with his family before deciding to return and rejoin the team for Game 5. St. Louis is coming off what was likely his most disappointing playoff performance as a New York Ranger in Wednesday’s dispiriting loss.
Man disadvantage: The Rangers have gone nine straight playoff games without a power-play goal, which ties the NHL record for the longest drought. They have been blanked on 36 straight opportunities heading into Friday’s action, as the maligned unit has plummeted into downright dysfunction. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s penalty-killers have been terrific in providing the Penguins momentum, allowing the team to wrest control of the series.
Coming around: What began as a question mark has emerged as a strength for the Penguins, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury delivering some of his most impressive performances of the season during this series. The 29-year-old netminder posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3, a scoreless streak that stretched for 145:30 until Carl Hagelin's first-period marker in Game 4.
Injury swap: Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik appears unlikely to play in Game 5 after suffering an undisclosed injury that forced him from Game 4 after the first period. Orpik had only just returned after missing five games with a separate injury sustained in the team’s first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Assuming he does not dress, rugged blueliner Robert Bortuzzo will likely be in the lineup.
What next? Rick Nash's struggles have been well-documented in this space, but his failure to produce is developing into a storyline that will surely carry over into this offseason. If the supposed star winger, who has scored only one goal in 23 postseason games with the Rangers and none this spring, can’t be counted on to deliver when it matters, what does that mean for his future? The Rangers have only one compliance buyout available, with conventional wisdom suggesting that they will exercise that on veteran center Brad Richards. Could a trade be possible? Not sure how many teams will be lining up given Nash's hefty cap hit of $7.8 million and his concussion history, but you can bet the Rangers will want to explore what’s out there. Keep in mind, however, that Nash has a no-trade clause, which further complicates matters.